Header graphic for print
Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Habitual Violator allowed to sell eggs by FDA – Already had sickened 1,820 this year

jpgThe company at the center of the salmonella outbreak that sickened more than 1,820 people during the summer and led to the recall of 550 million eggs has been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration to begin selling eggs for the table again. On Tuesday the FDA notified Wright County Egg LLC of Galt, Iowa, that it could begin shipping shell eggs from two of its 73 henhouses.

The FDA has conducted multiple on-site inspections, the most recent in October and November. Eggs from the two laying houses now cleared to sell shell eggs have tested negative for salmonella enteritidis, twice by the FDA and once by Wright County Egg. The company has agreed to test the houses every month.

In June 2000, DeCoster became the first person labeled a “habitual violator” of Iowa’s environmental laws, meaning that his business had already been successfully sued at least three times by the Iowa attorney general.

Under Iowa state law, habitual violators can have daily fines quintupled from $5,000 to $25,000 and they are prohibited from expanding their business. Despite this, the Iowa Independent reports, DeCoster has found work-arounds that allow his agro-empire to keep growing.  Fines DeCoster has paid over the years include:

• $1.5 million to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2003 to resolve charges of sexual harassment and rape by company supervisors

• $2.1 million in 2003, accompanying a guilty plea on charges of knowingly hiring illegal immigrants

• $3.5 million in 1996, for mistreatment of workers at egg farms in Maine

• For more horror stories about DeCoster – see New York Times and below:

Screen shot 2010-12-04 at 6.22.16 PM.png

  • Dear Mr Marler:
    Is there something wrong here? Can’t you give the egg guy a break?
    I mean, so what if DeCoster and his operations through the years have probably made millions ill, in fact, DeCoster and his empire are probably the reason for much of the salmonella in this country! BUT this is where we get our eggs from!!! What would we do without him? No egg nog at Christmas, or eggs over easy any more, Dennys out of business not to mention my favorite Waffle House? Is that what you want?
    Not me, I got eggs right in the fridge now. And thanks to who? Yes, you guessed it, its none other than hard working farmers… guys like him. And anyway, he is just a business man like you and me, trying to make a buck in this world. So he is rich, is that it? I don’t think the billions this guy has, that it really helped much down at FDA, he just has good lawyers, best money can buy.
    And I can see in this picture, the guy is really sorry for what happened, and won’t do it again.
    So FDA gave an old egg guy a break, is that so bad, nobody died, right?
    The only thing that bothers me is that this picture makes Mr. DeCoster look like, well, like one of those chickens you see desperate to get out of their little cages and stretch their wings, I guess being around chickens all your life, you start to look like them after a while or something.
    Thats it.
    Average Joe.

  • John Munsell

    And we think that S. 510’s requirement of all food facilities to have written food safety plans, such as USDA-style HACCP protocol, would change operations at these egg facilities?
    FDA’s inspectors would morph into duplicates of USDA inspectors, who primarily audit paperwork, and do not inspect production lines. The story above reveals that Mr. DeCoster has historically been willing to pay hefty fines for noncompliances, so who cares?
    Any future legislation must focus on INSPECTING FOOD, instead of AUDITING PAPERWORK, which can be easily falsified. My perception is that FDA currently has the authority to withdraw inspectors from noncompliant plants. If so, why hasn’t it happened at Wright County Egg? Because FDA is walking on egg shells.
    John Munsell

  • Bill Anderson

    Yet Estrella and Morningland dairies are both still shut down, even though they have never made anyone sick. And you are still beating the drum to give the corrupt corporate controlled FDA more power than they already have!!!!!
    We need DE-corporatization and DE-centralization of our food supply. S510 will do just the opposite, and will lead to MORE corporatization and centralization, and MORE food borne illness outbreaks like the one we witnessed earlier this year.
    If all this proves anything, it is this: You can’t legislate your way to food safety. Doesn’t matter how many laws and rules you make, and how punitive and strict you make the regulations. If your food is coming from a huge confinement operation with unhealthy plants and animals out of balance with their ecosystem, and designed only to turn as much profit to the corporation as possible, it is going to make people sick. May not be from bacteria, could be nutritional deficiency, cancer, heart disease, diabetes (insert modern life-style/dietary related disase here), but its going to be bad for human health either way.
    The best way to ensure safe food is to KNOW YOUR FARMER.

  • Gabrielle Meunier

    Bill A, I guess you would have to shut down every fast food restaurant in America. Take that America. And when our local farmers run out of food? That’s ok, starving I guess would be better than being poisoned??

  • Jess C. Rajan, Ph.D.

    Both the USDA and DHHS have sub-agencies that have egg/food safety-related “regulatory” functions. However, at the operational level, these “regulatory agencies” implement food safety laws using draft guidelines and/or inconsistent procedures. For example, these agencies enter into inter-agency agreement (IAA) and/or memorandum of understanding (MOU) that undermines their food safety functions. The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is one of the favorites for IAA and MOU. The details of such operational arrangements may not be published for general information. The present USDA/FSIS 9 CFR Regulations and operational arrangements with AMS for Egg Products Inspections reflect only the “marketing” functions/interests of the USDA and not the food safety-related responsibilities of FSIS.

  • “Know your farmer” – How about this one:
    These folks were best friends with theirs.

  • John Munsell

    Although I owned and managed my own USDA-inspected slaughter and processing plant for 34 years, I admit that we must have government inspection over food production. Without it, forget about food safety. Bottom line: the government regulators must be totally independent of corporate control and influence, and the regulators must have the courage to INSPECT and implement enforcement actions where necessary…….which is non existent at today’s behemoth facilities. (Totally different story at the small plants, which lack clout). Well, neither USDA/FSIS nor FDA has the courage to take on these corporate monsters, many of which are multinational in scope.
    We must remove all food inspection from USDA/FSIS and FDA, and assign this responsibility to one agency which will be charge with inspecting ALL food. I’m not sure this will happen.
    At the risk of being redundant, we need a contemporary Upton Sinclair. Only this new book will not focus on the industry, but on a government which lacks the intestinal fortitude to protect consumers. This is a national scandal.
    John Munsell

  • John, I don’t need a Sinclair, I am reminded every day by how stupidity and greed impacts real people:

  • John Munsell

    Bill, I watched the video. Contrary to their public statements, neither FSIS nor the multi-national packers care. The agency has whole-heartedly retreated into non-inspection retirement, gratis HACCP. The big packers are focused on corporate profits, and Abby merely represents “acceptable risks”. There will be many more Abbys.
    I don’t apologize for disagreeing with the concluding statement appearing after the video above. The statement was “Mr. President, Senators, Congress Members, do your jobs!” I respectfully suggest they HAVE done their jobs. They created USDA, provide $1 billion annually to FSIS, and turned over rule making to FSIS, because after all, FSIS bureaucrats are fully trained in public health, while Senators and Representatives are not. Therein lies the problem.
    FSIS has willingly acquiesced its previous policing and command and control authority over to the industry, well, at least at the industry’s LARGEST players. FSIS intentionally changed Pillsbury’s HACCP program into a bastardized, unscientific, and corrupt method of meat non-inspection which not only insulates the largest slaughter plants from accountability, but also justifies the agency’s devolution into a non-player, preferring to audit paperwork while assiduously avoiding meaningful INSPECTION.
    I’m convinced that the vast majority of our elected officials are ignorant of this state of affairs. After all, they fund USDA & FSIS, and agency officials have successfully convinced the Hill that they have everything under “Scientific” control.
    Again, at the risk of being redundant, our primary foe here is NOT pathogens, nor is it the alleged unwillingness of our elected leaders to pass food safety legislation. Our most lethal foe is a highly-paid gov bureaucracy which adroitly avoids food inspection, taking the low road and calling it “science based” deregulation. Even if we pass perfect legislation, some agency has to implement it, and therein lies the problem……………we no longer have USDA or FDA leadership willing to stand toe-to-toe with the multinational conglomerates. I must admit that the current tandem of Dr. Elisabeth Hagen and Al Almanza at FSIS gives us reason for optimism, but I guarantee you that their lieutenants will sabotage ALL meaningful ideas posed for changes, and for good reason. Many of these lieutenants will assume cushy jobs within the industry subsequent to their retirement from the agency. Who is gonna bite the hand that will feed them in the future. And yes, the global conglomerates have purchased compliance from many elected officials.
    We need one new agency, in charge of ALL food, staffed by folks with high integrity, whose loyalty cannot be purchased, and have absolutely no ties to the food industry. Yup, that is a tall order, but in my mind is the only solution to ongoing Abby’s.
    John Munsell

  • Gabrielle Meunier

    To John: however doing NOTHING is not an option. For years, victims of foodborne illness have asked Congress to write a Bill to make our food safer. After 20 years, they have acted. While the Bill may not address all problems, it does address some problems and SOMETHING is better than NOTHING. When I testified to the Senate, I stated that owners of food processing companies need to sign off on inspections and take personal accountability for the safety of their food. Each food inspector should DEFINITELY be forced to sign a non-compete clause for at least 5 years and the same should go to all upper level management of the major food safety agencies. You are right that they should not be having personal relationships with the companies that they inspect — that is a true CONFLICT of interest. Abby’s story is so gut renching. It could have been my Chris. You should have seen him struggle with the pain. UNBELIEVABLE. Again, to do NOTHING is unacceptable.